Friday, March 16, 2007

Pig in a Poke

If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men
--St. Francis of Assisi

As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields

--Leo Tolstoy

Humanity's true moral test, its fundamental test, consists of its attitude toward those who are at tis mercy: animals. And in this respect, human kind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it
--Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

This may seem off base for us, but there's method in't.

Since we've been talking lately about human detentions, it seems fitting to consider holding cells across the board, for how a society treats its lowliest beasts is an indicator of its compassion.

A New York Times op-ed column notes the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, will phase out "gestation crates"--cages which "immobilize pigs during their pregnancies in metal stalls so narrow they are unable to turn around, yet this is only a small first step toward eliminating cruel conditions in the factory farm business. The article is worth a look.

Factory farming can be a brutal business, in which animals never see the light of day for the entirety of their lives, the confined animals showing behavior consistent with severe human depression and mental illness. The EU has already banned such confinement crates, and has introduced group holding pens as an alternative, to at least allow for social interaction.

Writer Niman notes:

"Of the 60 million pigs in the United States, over 95 percent are continuously confined in metal buildings, including the almost five million sows in crates. In such setups, feed is automatically delivered to animals who are forced to urinate and defecate where they eat and sleep. Their waste festers in large pits a few feet below their hooves. Intense ammonia and hydrogen sulfide fumes from these pits fill pigs’ lungs and sensitive nostrils. No straw is provided to the animals because that would gum up the works (as it would if you tossed straw into your toilet)."

"The stress, crowding and contamination inside confinement buildings foster disease, especially respiratory illnesses. In addition to toxic fumes, bacteria, yeast and molds have been recorded in swine buildings at a level more than 1,000 times higher than in normal air. To prevent disease outbreaks (and to stimulate faster growth), the hog industry adds more than 10 million pounds of antibiotics to its feed, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates. This mountain of drugs — a staggering three times more than all antibiotics used to treat human illnesses — is a grim yardstick of the wretchedness of these facilities."

Here in Florida we passed an amendment to the state's constitution banning use of such crates back in 2002. The ban also ensured that the large pig farms could not do business here and foul the environment as they have in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Aside from the sheer brutality which we are promulgating on a daily basis in such facilities, think of it in purely selfish terms: Do you wish to ingest the flesh of an animal whose life has been nothing but misery until the day of its slaughter? We don't know a lot about how all the body's hormone interact, but I would bet that whatever fear and horror constitutes their daily life somehow gets translated into the chemical structure of their bodies. Purely layman's guessing, but it is not something that brings me pleasure to contemplate.

I was one of the signature-gatherers for the crate ban in Florida. In the face of much ridicule, our efforts prevailed. If you think something's not right, you have the power of protest. If you are not one of the power brokers, it is your only power.

--by Lisa


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